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31 Jul 2015 | KSL

Transhumance herding: Not a pastoral romance anymore

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With each passing year new realities are creeping into remote parts of Nepal leading to change in lifestyles, food habits, customs, and often eliminating time-honored traditions.

The district of Bajhang is no exception; its transhumance herders say they are at a cusp of a new development.

Herder Kalu Bohra of Baanschowki has been a reluctant witness to changes coming to his community. In the past, almost every household in Baanschowki had sheep and goats but almost half of these households don’t raise livestock anymore. Until not so long ago when Bajhang was not accessible by road, people depended on these herders and their animals for transporting food from as far as Doti and Dadeldhura and rock salt from Taaklakot, China.

However, as roads were built the mode of transportation naturally changed, and people’s dependency on herders gradually declined. Bigger animals like mules are now preferred to smaller animals like sheep and goats. Mules carry heavier goods and cover longer distances.

Chandra Bohra, another transhumance herder, says the emergence of community forestry user groups (CFUGs) along migratory routes is also a reason why people like him are now discontinuing herding. These user groups have denied traditional forest use rights to herders, resulting in conflicts and loss of livelihood for herders. Herders say they pay taxes to the VDC, CFUGs, and local thugs. Often their animals are also stolen.

With the arrival of modern amenities, herding is no more an attractive option and is seen as sheer drudgery. A herder for four years, Ganesh Bohra, says he is not interested in herding anymore. He says herders spend days and nights looking after the animals in poor living conditions, have to often quarrel with local communities, and their earnings are barely sufficient to sustain their families.

“I will instead join my friends to collect Yarsagumba which can fetch me rupees 150,000 to 200,000 in a couple of months, which is sufficient for my family for a year,” said Ganesh Bohra.

Our interviews indicated that the number of herders had been declining over the years for several reasons: lack of grazing land, conflicts with local communities, and availability of new means of transport and alternative livelihood options. All these factors discouraged the younger generation to take up transhumance herding.

Despite ecological and cultural significance, the future of transhumance herders seems uncertain due to demographic, socio-economic, institutional, and geo-political changes as well as unfavorable policies and climatic factors. In Bajhang’s context, transhumance herding is vital for food security of herders. However, no effort seems to have been made to reduce the drudgery of the herders or provide them with other livelihood options.

Under Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KSLCDI) effort is underway to explore possibilities of creating institutional arrangements between CFUGs and herders that may benefit both the parties.

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